Vintage Scientist dub tracks given new life

The recently released Scientist LP titled The Dub Album They Didn’t Want You To Hear effortlessly takes its place alongside the best reggae releases of 2014. Brooklyn’s Deeper Knowledge Records, along with Hyman Wright’s Jah Life label, put out the album which includes dub versions of the ten outstanding tracks from Flick Wilson’s School Days.

With riddims layed down at Channel One in 1980, the album was voiced by Wilson and mixed at King Tubby’s by a 20 year old Scientist, School Days was among the earliest albums produced by flamboyant, trend-setting producer and sound system man Henry “Junjo” Lawes. Lawes is a legendary figure in Jamaica, a producer who had more in common with Jesse James than he did with Harry J. Jamaican broadcaster and Musgrave Award-winning world musicologist Dermot Hussey tells of one run in he had with Lawes on Maxfield Avenue:

“Junjo was a wild man” he says laughing. I was assigned to a Swedish documentary film crew at the time, helping them sort of navigate the treacherous streets in Kingston, linking them with the proper people you know. So the youth dem get a little crazy outside of Channel One studio roughing up the people there you know. You had a good chance of getting roughed up or robbed if you cross dem. So Junjo burst through the door of the studio deh with a corckscrew screaming and chasing the youth away. Boy I swear Junjo was lookin’ to cut somebody.”

Henry "Junjo" Lawes (Photo:  Pekka Vuorinen)

Henry “Junjo” Lawes (Photo: Pekka Vuorinen)

Fresh off producing a string of successful singles and a groundbreaking studio album with teenaged singing sensation Barrington Levy, Lawes was in the midst of creating a new sound which would take roots in the dancehalls and sound system battles, eventually transforming reggae music forever.

Enlisting the services of a promising group of stylish young players called the Roots Radics (for their “radical” approach to playing reggae music) Lawes entered the 16-track pressure cooker at 29 Maxfield Avenue in 1979 and never looked back. When they emerged in 1984 they had produced 100 full-length studio albums which resembled nothing recorded within those walls before. The new Channel One sound was characterized by heavy-driving roots reggae riddims which were stronger, faster, harder, and played with a style that was a bit slicker, but with the authenticity of the roots riddims recorded there by Sly and Robbie’s Revolutionaries during the 1970s. Many of the albums were mixed at King Tubby’s by a slim and cocky young studio engineer named Hopeton Overton Brown who would just as soon dismantle you with the Jedi Mind Trick than acknowledge your meager existence which allows you to breathe his air in a world all his own. Scientist is the name he was given by the players and producers who had an appreciation for his intricate working knowledge of studio sound equipment, his controlled aggression behind the mixing desk, and his propensity to take a raw track and turn that mother fucker inside out, upside down, often creating a crippling psychofunkadelic sound that was well ahead of its time. Scientist was not so much an engineer as the final instrumentalist to lay it down on the album, giving it his own unique signature before sending it off to the presses.

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In Flick Wilson, Lawes had a gifted singer with an instantly recognizable trait – a deadly falsetto so sharp and distinct that no one sounded quite like him. Unfortunately, Wilson recorded very little material outside of the tracks layed down during the School Days sessions, an album that blessed far too few turntables on the island at the time, and was only meagerly pressed by Hyman Wright at Jah Life Records in Brooklyn, NY. That is until it was re-released by Brooklyn’s own Dub Irator and an omnipresent Jah Life label in 2012 giving it a brand new life with a whole new generation of fans and collectors looking to mine the lost Jamaican gold from the early 1980s. According to Rob Buschgans of Deeper Knowledge the re-release was so revered by fans that releasing its dub companion was a no-brainer.

“I’ve known Jah Life for a good while before we started doing reissues with him. Once we started working together, my aim was always to focus as much on unreleased material as well as reissues. The Flick Wilson dubs were some of the earliest unreleased material we discovered, so we always intended to release them, even before we reissued the Flick vocal album. The vocal LP is one of my favorites of the era, and I love Scientist’s mixing in this era, so it was a no brainer to put out.”

Ask most serious fans and collectors about Deeper Knowledge/Digikiller and they will tell you that the label is doing Jah works – tracking down unreleased treasure from Channel One’s early dancehall era, pressing to vinyl as originally intended, and placing it in the hands of the disciples, who spend hours in online reggae forums critiquing the tracks, debating its worthiness, and drafting their own wish lists.

This album is hard, hard, hard. Scientist proved himself to be one of the best of that transformative era in reggae with captivating dub albums which captured the essence of the sound and vibe of the new residents at Channel One studio. The brilliantly titled Dub Album They Didn’t Want You To Hear is every bit as essential as The Best Dub Album In The World, Scientist vs. Prince Jammy: The Big Showdown, and Scientist Wins The World Cup, and Heavyweight Dub Champion. This is Scientist doing what he was born to do.

The opening track is the version to Wilson’s “Jah Turn Them Down.” Featuring an aggressive harmonica loop and a hard-stepping riddim played in the Radics’ signature style, “Jah Turn Them Dub” is an excellent choice for lift-off. My favorite track on the album is the third track titled “Yallas Dub” and its all Santa, Flabba, and Scientist. This is one of the most aggressive mixes I’ve ever heard from Scientist popping off proper one minute into the track. Chinna and Gladdy step back and watch Santa and Flabba go toe to toe. Flabba, with his signature bass strapped high on his chest, testing its limits like a man born with ten fingers on his hand and Santa brutalizing his drumset like a madman on high-grade. Add a frenzied cowbell and Scientist to the mix and you have an impossibly thumping dub track that will pulverize even the meanest sound system.

The Side B opener titled “Facts of Dub” is all Flabba Holt and Santa Davis in an otherwordly, echo-laden mindmeld. Scientist knows his role and plays it perfectly striking the effects at precisely the right moment. He is omnipresent throughout without burying the track in effects. “I Don’t Mind Dub” keeps up the pace, even introducing an interesting new sound that reprises throughout the remainder of the album which can only be compared to a grafitti artist shaking his spray paint can. “Don’t Give Up Your Culture Dub” is a Scientist dub mixing clinic gone mad. “School Days Dub” closes the album as strongly as it opens using the sparsely placed Flick Wilson vocal “Do you remember the days of school.”

This album was long overdue and it is the most worthwhile release I’ve heard in some time. If you know this sound then I assume you’ve already purchased this album. If you are not familiar with this sound, or if you are just getting introduced to the Roots Radics at Channel One, then you are in for one hell of a ride.


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